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Town Planning and Drainage System of Harappan Civilization

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This famous civilization is also known as Indus Valley Civilization and it was a Bronze Age civilization, situated in the present geographical location from North-West India to North-East Afghanistan and Pakistan. This civilization flourished in the river basins of the Indus and the Ghaggar-Hakra River and is famous for its systematic planning based on the grid system. 

In 1921-1922 an excavation campaign led by Sir John Hubert Marshall discovered the ruins of the city of Harappa for the first time. In 1922 R. D. Banerji excavated the site Mohenjodaro at Larkana District Of Sind on the bank of Indus. The major cities found in the excavation are Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Mehrgarh, and Ganeriwala in modern-day Pakistan, and Lothal, Dholavira, Surkotada, Rakhigarhi, and Rupal in modern-day India. More than 1000 cities were discovered near the Indus River and its tributaries till 1999.

The cities of the Indus Valley were well-developed urban centers the buildings were sturdy and made of burnt brick and stone. Evidence of town buildings like granaries, warehouses, and brick walls suggest a great deal of architectural planning and efficiency. The people in the Indus Valley built their cities with the right planning and with a set pattern. About 40,000 people could live in a proper city of the Indus Valley. The drainage system was so well planned and can be compared to every modern city.

Harappan Civilization – Background

One of the greatest civilizations on earth Indus valley civilization or the Harappan civilization existed between 2500-1700 BC. Many civilizations evolved contemporary to Indus Valley but none of them matched with the Indus valley in matters of town planning and the drainage system. Large urban centers such as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were the most advanced urban settlements of the Indus Valley civilization. Although Harappa was the first known site, Mohenjo-Daro became a more notable site because of its largest urban settlements. The drainage system was so sophisticated and well planned that even undeveloped countries are still trying to achieve it. The drainage system of Harappa was very unique which indicates that Harappans paid a good deal of attention to health and cleanliness.

Town Planning of Harappan cities

a) The pattern of Houses

Archeological excavations at Mohenjo-Daro exposed that the city of Mohenjo-Daro was divided into two sections: the citadel and the lower town. Higher but smaller areas belong to the Citadels while the lower town was larger in areas. It is believed that the citadel was a fortified settlement and comprised of some chief structures such as the great bath and the warehouse while the lower town consisted of houses and workshops. Only 6 citadels have been found showing that only priests or higher classes used to live there.

Most of the houses in the Lower Town had a central courtyard with rooms surrounding them. The courtyard was likely used for summer activities such as cooking and knitting. In most houses, the main entrance was placed in such a way that it did not give a direct view of the interior to maintain privacy. In addition, no windows were present on the walls of the ground-level of the houses.

b) The pattern of streets and roads

All streets and roads of Indus Valley were straight and cutting each other at a right angle. All the roads were built using burnt bricks and the length of each brick was four times the height of the brick and the breadth was two times the height of the brick. 

c) The Great Bath

The excavation shows that the Great Bath which was located inside the city was a larger rectangular tank and meant for special rituals or ceremonial baths and was almost looked similar to a modern-day swimming pool. The tank was built inside a courtyard and was bordered by a corridor on all four sides. The tank was coated with gypsum to prevent water leakage. Two entrances to the tank one from the north and another from the south. The tank had bricks in its edges and a huge drain on one side. Interestingly, there have been additionally 3 showers simply close to the Great Bath. The tank was also surrounded by side rooms like cloth changing rooms.

d) Great Granary

One of the biggest granaries sites was found in Indus Valley at Mohenjo Daro. Almost every site found in excavation witnesses the system of Granary or Warehouses. Most staple food such as rice, wheat, and barley was stored in these warehouses for public distribution during calamities. The granaries in the cervical region were a huge construction. Archeological proof proposes the lower piece of the stockroom was made of blocks and the upper part was likely made of wood.

Drainage System of Harappan cities

The Indus Valley Civilization had cities that were equipped with complex water and sewage systems. Houses with single, double, and more rooms attached with a very good drainage system were found in many of the sites of Indus Valley. Kitchens and bathrooms also had drains, which were connected to the street drains these drains were covered with bricks and sometimes with stone slabs. The wastes traveled from the flushing toilets into one of many sewage pipes that carried out the waste into a river or sea if the waste did not go into a pipe then it went into a cesspool. Corbelled drains were the main source of collecting sewage and rainwater, they may have also been used to drain large baths that the people use for ritual bathing.

a) Toilets

The Trines were communal areas that contained one or more toilets. There were two types of toilet latrines the pit toilets and flush toilets. Pit toilets were easier to build because the people just had to make a hole in the ground whereas flush toilets were similar to the modern ones.

b) Fresh Water

An architect’s view of Lothal shows the pipes as they let out of the city and into the forest. The pictures of Lothal also show how some pipes brought water into the city for freshwater use. Private baths were common in the cities of Lothal, Harappa, and Mohenjo-Daro as many of them were excavated during archaeological digs. Wells was a major source of clean fresh water and they also provided a place for people to wash their clothes.

c) Sanitary Sewer

Sanitary sewers were underground pathways for ways to travel. The main sewer was connected to all of the north to south and east to west sewers, as it ran through the city. At the end of the main sewer was a wooden screen that kept back the solid waste but allowed the liquids to continue through and to a cesspool. From there the waste was taken from the cesspool and into the river estuary. They were also used for taking used dirty water out of the city. 


The Indus Valley Civilization was one of the oldest and developed civilizations of its time. The cities were very well structured and developed. Collection and disposal of waste were also done in a nice manner as a wooden screen was placed at end of the main sewer, this shows that they were also aware of water pollution. Streets were also construed in an engineering style and also made up of burnt bricks and having well drainage system.  It’s very unfortunate that none of the Harappan architecture has completely survived the test of time all we see today are that ruins are very sophisticated. An advanced civilization whose architecture continues to be the center of historical debate for so many because so many remains are excavated and unexplored.

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Last Updated : 10 Sep, 2023
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